10 October 2006

Trans-fat ban: a healthy solution?

Sometimes I just love eating fatty, greasy, unquestionably hazardous foods. But I don't like trans fats, that come as a by-product in some processed foods.

Sometimes I just love eating fatty, greasy, unquestionably hazardous foods. But I don't like trans fats, that come as a by-product in some processed foods, and have been linked to high cholesterol and heart problems.

However, while I may not like them, does this mean I would want to see them banned along with any other unhealthy product in my food?

Oddly, I would not. If we are to all take more responsibility in what we eat, clear labelling and informed decision making must be encouraged by health officials instead of blanket bans.

Last month, the New York City Health Department proposed an initiative that would require all restaurants and food-service outlets to remove most trans fats from their cooking over an 18-month period.

Passing the buck
Though I disagree with their use, I cannot see how a ban in New York, and possibly the wider United States, can be a good thing for public welfare in the long run.

By beginning a pattern of legislating against unhealthy foods, are we not simply just passing the buck onto authorities to decide our diets rather than ourselves?

While trans fats are undoubtedly a major issue for food processors, there are a number of additives that are arguably a potential threat to our health.

After all, where would we go after a ban on trans fats in restaurants?

Informed societal change
Could we really see no more salts, sugars, or any other kind of preservatives in the food-service sector? To some extent, consumer pressure is already helping to phase out these methods and drive the use of healthier alternatives anyway.

It is surely here then, where the real dietary revolutions take place. Not in the form of legislation, but real and informed societal change.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly wouldn't miss the use of trans fats in food production. Who, after all, wants to add cookies, biscuits and eating in general to the growing list of near fatal vices in our lives?

My problem is that we may be in danger of confusing a ban as the same thing as a balanced diet.

Better labelling of foodstuffs
The stronger argument surely is across the board labelling for all foodstuffs and restaurants to reveal just what ingredients they are using and when trans fat are present in their premises and products.

If cigarette packets now offer clear indication that smoking is hazardous, than why should consumers not receive a similarly happy reminder with their food?

Otherwise, we will surely begin to adopt the rather fallible argument that "if the government says it's alright to eat, than what harm can this restaurant or this product do to me".

It is true, that in these cases, pressure from the courts can work wonders. In 2003, after legal pressure, Kraft Foods took their recipe for their popular Oreo cookies and after a major overhaul of the recipe successfully removed trans fats without affecting taste or apparently sales.

Even so, a diet reliant on Oreo cookies is still hardly contributing to a healthy lifestyle - no matter how many trans fats are removed.

Informed decisions key
A ban surely only continues to distance the public from making informed decisions about their own diets, and informed decision is ultimately the key to this issue. It is here where clear labelling and warnings could really make a difference to the way people think about their food.

It is true, however, particularly in the case of children that not everyone can make an informed decision, and in environments such as schools, restrictions on food available would certainly have a role. Measures I believe are again being considered by health and education officials.

But back in the realms of consulting adults, we should and must be presented with the facts of what we are consuming and accordingly must accept the risks that come with that knowledge.

To loosely paraphrase a wiser man than myself, I may not agree with what you're eating, but I agree with your right to eat it, bon appetit. - (Neil Merrett,

Source: Decision News Media

Read more:
Global phasing out of trans fats?
Big Apple to ban bad fats


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